Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"You Wrote It" May Not Mean "You Own It"

Just because you wrote it (or said it), doesn't mean that you own it.

That's the lesson of the current fight over catch phrases created by "The Situation" on the popular M-TV show Jersey Shore.  It is also a lesson for writers who sign contracts or do work for hire.  Your words may no longer be your own.

Viacom, parent company of M-TV, has sued Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino and MPS Productions (his brother's production company) over the rights to such timeless phrases as "twinning"  (having sex with twins) and "GTL" (gym, tan, laundry) - apparently "The Situation's" daily routine.

The lawsuit is covered in an online article in the Hollywood Reporter (Click HERE).  Viacom claims that when Sorrentino signed on to Jersey Shore, he signed away his rights to all “all ideas, gags, plots, texts…and other material" created on the show, including catchphrases.  Complicating the matter, MPS Production has signed contracts with Reebok for the marketing some of those catchphrases on Reebok apparel.

The Situation isn't new to the world of intellectual property - as strange as that pairing may seem.  MPS apparently is engaged in a legal battle with clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch over its tee shirts that say "The Fitchuation."  

I must admit, I've never seen Jersey Shore.  I've seen clips of drinking and brawling, and a tiny person named Snooky with an accent so thick it seems faked.  I just don't get it.

But of all the things I've seen people fight over in court, "The Fitchuation" may be the most bizarre.

However there is a valuable lesson in all this.

Writers need to take heed.  Those contracts that an author may be so eager to sign are not just pieces of paper.  They contain language that impacts the author's rights.  As in the case with the Jersey Shore contract, it may give away rights in ways that the author simply doesn't perceive.

The small print does make a difference.  Authors need to make sure they understand the consequences of any contract or agreement before signing. Otherwise you might find yourself in the same situation as, well, The Situation.

No comments:

Post a Comment